On May 1st, UVFTS led a school compost tour!

Nine FTS practitioners from all over the Upper Valley and beyond attended to hear about composting at Thetford, Bradford and Newbury Elementary Schools. Many commented during and after the tour that they were totally inspired to see these three schools successfully composting so much food waste, and surprised to see how different each system was. We wanted to share a brief summary of what attendees saw at each school to inspire and surprise those of you who couldn’t make the actual tour.

First, why compost at your school? Based on what we saw and heard in Thetford, Bradford and Newbury, here are three great reasons:

1. Environment:

  • Sending food waste to the landfill takes up space that could otherwise be used for agriculture, housing or recreation.
  • Food waste that decomposes in plastic bags at the landfill produces methane, which is the worst greenhouse gas, so sending your food scraps to the landfill exacerbates global warming. Also, trucking food waste to the landfill uses up fossil fuels and creates other greenhouse gasses.

2. Education:

  • Composting provides excellent educational opportunities across subject areas. The schools we visited are using composting to teach about:
    • Math (measuring volume and temperature, graphing)
    • Science (ecology and sustainability)
    • Civics/life skills (responsibility)
    • Technology (using an app on an ipad to record data about the compost heap, creating a presentation or movie)
    • Writing (compost poetry! Also informative writing)

3. Money:

  • On-site composting can save you money (for a school, potentially thousands of dollars each year) because you won’t have to pay to send food waste to the landfill.
  • Selling finished compost can be a school fundraiser.
  • You can use finished compost in school gardens instead of buying compost.

Now that you’re convinced of the value of school composting, the tour:

Tour led by: Joette Hayashigawa, TES’ nurse, and Cat Buxton, Education Coordinator at Cedar Circle Farm and a garden consultant for TES 

Thetford Elementary School (TES):

  • Type of composting: On-site, 5 large bins take all food waste.
  • History of composting at TES: Before building their current system 2 years ago, TES sent food waste to a community member who had chickens for one year. This helped the kids learn how to sort their waste. TES hired the Highfields Center for Composting to assess their composting needs, with funding from the Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District. They then got a grant from the Wellborn Ecology Fund to buy materials to build their bins, to pay for further technical assistance from Highfields, and to support professional development for their teachers to integrate composting into the curriculum.
  • How it works:
    • In the lunchroom: Students dump food waste, including milk, dairy and meat, into buckets on a wagon.
    • After lunch: 5th graders bring the wagon & food waste out to the compost bins twice a day. TES follows a recipe from Highfields, adding horse manure, fallen leaves and sawdust to their food waste to balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio. 5th grade students follow the recipe and add the ingredients each day, and also measure the temperature of the pile. The contents of the bins is turned every month. The finished compost is cured in compost cloth (which repels water but lets in oxygen), and is also aerated once a month, and sifted by students before it’s used in the gardens or bagged.
    • Where it goes: TES’ compost is used in their school gardens, and any extra is sold to community members.

Bradford Elementary School (BES):

  • Tour led by: Jim McCracken, Place-Based Educator
  • Type of composting: Off-site for lunch and kitchen food waste, on-site in 3 bins for snack food waste and garden waste
  • History of composting at BES: BES started sending food scraps to Bob Sandberg to be composted at his farm several years ago. Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District subsidized the initiative to start, but now the school pays Mr. Sandberg for this service out of the school budget.
  • How it works:
    • At snack: 2nd graders collect fruit and vegetable food waste from every classroom after snack, and bring it to on-site, open bins. This compost is rotated once or twice a year from one bin to the next, and when finished, it is used in the school gardens.
    • Where it goes: Mr. Sandberg collects from several schools as well as other institutions, and sells his finished product. The school buys finished compost from Mr. Sandberg for their school gardens.
    • In the lunchroom: Students dump food waste, including meat and dairy, into square buckets in a wagon.
    • After lunch: 5th graders bring the food waste to bins provided by Mr. Sandberg that are located outside the school kitchen, next to the dumpster. The 5thgraders check the food waste as they dump it in case of any accidental plastic contamination. Cafeteria staff brings kitchen food scraps to the compost bins as well. Mr. Sandberg picks them up once a week and replaces them with empty bins.

Tour led by: Jeff Goodell, 5th grade teacher

Newbury Elementary School (NES):

  • Type of composting: On-site, 6 mounted bins that tumble
  • History of composting at NES: NES has been composting for over 15 years! Wow! Thanks to the involvement of a local farmer and a donation from Gardener’s Supply, they were able to start their system, and it’s still going strong under the leadership of Mr. Goodell!
  • How it works:
    • In the lunchroom: 5th graders put out newspaper under a bucket, and help students sort their waste. They try to avoid milk because it makes their compost too wet, and meat, although both occasionally make their way into the bucket.
    • After lunch: 5th graders bring the bucket outside and add to one of the bins. They also add sawdust. Then they turn each of the bins 5 times to aerate the compost – a fun challenge for 2 fifth graders, as the bins are bigger and heavier than they are!
    • Where it goes: The finished compost is sometimes sold as a fundraiser and is also used in the school gardens.

Inspired to start composting at your school? Contact UVFTS for more info & support! A big thank you to our presenters, Joette, Cat, Jim and Jeff, for giving their time and expertise.